analysis

Climate wars heat up again ahead of Federal election as Peter Dutton and Anthony Albanese

Ellen Ransley
The Nightly
5 Min Read
While Anthony Albanese and Peter Dutton are busy exchanging barbs, below the surface there are bigger problems that must be dealt with before Australians vote. 
While Anthony Albanese and Peter Dutton are busy exchanging barbs, below the surface there are bigger problems that must be dealt with before Australians vote.  Credit: The Nightly

The new frontier of the climate wars shapes to be a major election battleground.

On one side, the Opposition has opted not to take a 2030 target to the voters. All the while, an internal war is brewing — again — over how beholden the Coalition is to the ambitious Paris agreement to limit global warming to below 2C.

On the other, Labor is under pressure from its own base to meet — and indeed exceed — its legislated 43 per cent 2030 emissions reduction target, despite a lacklustre rollout of renewables and criticism from its own left flank.

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But while PM Anthony Albanese and Opposition Leader Peter Dutton are busy exchanging barbs, below the surface there are bigger problems that must be dealt with before Australians vote.

After days of mounting speculation over whether the Coalition would walk away from the Paris agreement and scrap Labor’s legislated target to cut emissions by 43 per cent by 2030, Mr Dutton on Tuesday confirmed he would not announce a near-term target unless he became Prime Minister.

He said while the Coalition remained committed to reaching net zero by 2050, he explained his rationale for walking away from 43 per cent and failing to provide Australians with replacement figures.

“We need to make sure that we don’t harm Australian families and businesses in the interim and that is what Labor is doing,” he said on Tuesday.

“And in terms of the targets otherwise, we’ll make those decisions when we are in government.”

The climate wars must be put to bed and if the Liberal and National parties do not wish to be part of that future, it is their own extinction they are guaranteeing.

Kicking that can down the road could prove disastrous in trying to recoup the losses the Liberals faced along the Sydney Harbour and in key Melbourne and Perth seats in 2022. After the party’s peace treaty with the Nationals on net zero and Scott Morrison’s 2030 target of 26 -28 per cent, unhappy “small-l” Liberal voters made their dissatisfaction known by voting for teal independents.

Kylea Tink, the independent North Sydney MP who clinched the seat from moderate Liberal Trent Zimmerman, said on Tuesday Mr Dutton’s plans to ditch the 2030 targets was “bordering on criminal”.

“The climate wars must be put to bed and if the Liberal and National parties do not wish to be part of that future, it is their own extinction they are guaranteeing,” she said.

All the while, the internal fissures within the joint party room are now at risk of being ripped open again, further alienating inner-city Liberals, with Nationals senator Matt Canavan on Tuesday demanding Australia completely abandon its emissions targets, describing the Paris agreement as a “ridiculous facade”.

It will mean moderate Liberals such as Andrew Bragg — who after Mr Dutton’s announcement sought to offer assurances the Coalition was “in for net zero” — will have a tough job selling the Coalition as an alternate government when both views can coexist in the same room.

“We’ll have to show people how we’re going to do that, and I’m sure that will be forthcoming,” he said.

Dismayed at the thought of sending Australians to the seventh climate election in a row, and the lack of cohesion in the Coalition, Mr Albanese branded Mr Dutton as “divisive” and out of touch with voters who “know climate change is real”.

He said opting to forego a target would send a message to the world that Australia is on the same footing as Yemen, Libya and Iran. Mr Albanese said it’s “not company that Australia should want to keep”.

“This is not sensible policy, this is an abandonment and it’s because he’s incapable of taking decisions against elements in his own party who remain climate change deniers,” Mr Albanese said.

“For Peter Dutton to put us outside the Paris Accord is an abrogation of the responsibility that mainstream political leaders have.”

Accusations the Government could fall short of its own legislated target of 43 per cent have been met with fiery responses this week, despite the latest government forecasts showing Australia is on a trajectory to hit 42 per cent by 2030.

Energy and Climate Change Minister Chris Bowen on Tuesday argued the Government was “within striking distance” of reaching its ambitious target, making the point that the 42 per cent forecast didn’t take into consideration a number of new policies.

“A lot of the policies we’ve put in place take a while to work — we’ve never denied that,” he said.

“Since that 42 per cent, we’ve outlined more policies and that 42 per cent (forecast) did not include, for example, decarbonisation achieved by the national reconstruction fund because that policy is still rolling out.”

But even bearing that in mind, one of the biggest hindrances to Labor’s own climate policy is the slow pace of the renewables rollout, with Mr Bowen himself acknowledging there was “more work to do”.

The government must set its 2035 emissions reduction target by next February, and while Mr Bowen says that the next milestone must be “ambitious” for the sake of climate change, the Government has so far refused to be drawn on what that might look like.

“We are focused on (2030),” Mr Albanese said when asked on Tuesday.

Mr Dutton says a 2035 target of 60 to 65 per cent, as has been speculated, would be catastrophic for Australian households and businesses, as it would “push electricity prices through the neck and through the roof”.

But failing to keep aiming so high could push angrier, greener voters who risk being pushed into the Greens’ arms.

With Greens leader Adam Bandt on Tuesday accusing neither the Labor nor Liberal party of a strong enough climate stance to meet the Paris goal, it’s clear that the next election is shaping up to be yet another climate election.

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